Grave robbers unearthed the remains of former Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos and stole his body by night from a suburban graveyard, Cyprus police said Friday, a day before the first anniversary of the statesman's death.

“The grave of the former president has been violated and the body robbed. We are still investigating'', said police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos.

Investigators believe the body was taken either late Thursday night or early Friday morning. The motive is unclear. Grave-robbing is rare in Cyprus.

Mounds of freshly dug-up earth lay at the site of the robbery in the Deftera village cemetery in a southwestern suburb of the Cypriot capital, Nicosia. Police investigators cordoned off the area and were searching the site.

Papadopoulos, a hardline president who ushered the ethnically divided island into the European Union after rallying Greek Cypriots to reject a United Nations-brokered peace deal, died a year ago on Saturday from lung cancer at age 74. He served as president from 2003 until March 2008, when he lost the presidential election to current President Demetris Christofias.

A British-trained lawyer, Papadopoulos was a veteran of Cyprus politics whose career spanned most of the island's turbulent history since gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1960.

He was a leader of the Greek Cypriot guerrilla group EOKA, which waged an anti-colonial campaign, and served as the youngest cabinet minister in the island's first post-independence government, at the age of 26.

Papadopoulos was for a time the chief Greek Cypriot negotiator in settlement talks with the breakaway Turkish Cypriots after 1974, when Turkey invaded the island in response to a coup by supporters of uniting the island with Greece.

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